Final Fantasy XI (the "cut the cord" scenario)
In February, we'll learn two important things. First, we'll see the announcement of a new expansion, released via digital download but still containing about the same number of bells and whistles as Wings of the Goddess. Second, we'll see the announcement that the expansion's release will signal the end of PlayStation 2 support for the game.
This will be met with mixtures of protest and joy from the playerbase. People still on the PS2 will obviously not be happy about it, but people on every other platform will finally be able to move beyond the limitations of hardware that has long since become stifling. The release will be near the end of the year, giving players ample time to finish up anything they want to do on the PS2, and then the plug will be pulled. And that's one stifling bit removed for good, a change that needs to be made in much the same way that a bandage needs to be torn off the wound quickly.
Of course, the lead-up to the expansion will be marked by a relative lack of much for people who aren't already at the endgame to do, and a lack of anything new to do other than try to work their way through Trial of the Magians without feeling the urge to unsubscribe. The expansion itself will try to encompass content for all level bands, and as a result it will be spread a bit thin and frequently not mesh too well with the existing game. But it's an expansion, and it will encourage old players to come back for a bit more time in Vana'diel, which is all you can ask, honestly.
Final Fantasy XI (the extremely boring, more likely scenario)
Absolutely nothing happens.
We get another roadmap for the game mid-February, one which can be summarized quite simply as "you like Voidwatch, right?" No real significant content changes are announced, no add-on scenarios are seriously put forth, and player enthusiasm begins to deflate with a whistling sound not unlike that of a punctured tire. Most of the major changes involve making certain extant grinds somewhat more reliable to complete without adding any more sense of accomplishment, which means that the people who already decided these things aren't worth the time to finish will feel the same way and those almost at the finish line will have an easier time reaching the end.
For the record: That's not actually a reward. If you've almost finished a year's work in nine months and then get the conclusion moved up so you can finish in just a week more, it feels like you've been cheated out of the satisfaction of actually finishing.
The results are sadly predictable. By the end of the year, there won't be any actual announcements about shutdowns, but the server list will have been consolidated again and the rumor will be circulating. EverQuest doesn't have the same issue, of course, but EverQuest also doesn't have an albatross with an optional hard drive attachment around its ankles. You get the idea.
Final Fantasy XIV
Regular readers of the site as a whole probably noticed my predictions for next year including a single sentence about FFXIV. (I say that more for completeness than anything else; if you're really just reading the site for my writings, I suspect you're my mother.) Consider this an expansion and explanation of that, then. To recap, I think that especially with the release of 2.0, the game is going to gain some traction as a hybrid between more modern themepark-style games and older sandboxes, but the PlayStation 3 release isn't going to make much of an impact on the game's population by itself.
Back in the day, of course, I had a very different opinion, stating without reservation that the PS3 release would be a big impact. That was nearly two years ago, and in that time we've seen DC Universe Online launch and convert to free-to-play, which has done nothing but good things for the game's revenue. John Smedley has gone on record saying that with the breadth of online gaming options available to console players these days, most players on a console expect something free for an initial offering, and I'm inclined to agree with him.
Two years ago, the game's launch on PlayStation 3 would have been something new and unprecedented. Now, it's launching into waters that have already been thoroughly tested. Unless the game itself goes outright free-to-play (which I don't see happening this year if ever), I don't think the console crowd will go nuts over it.
But I do think it's going to start attracting more of a crowd, especially once the housing system and the concurrent expanded bits of content and such are in place. And that, again, ties into the larger MMO space, notably the unkindness that has greeted sandbox games through the whole year. Star Wars Galaxies is gone, EVE Online ran into serious trouble, Darkfall seems to be trying at a wild revamp in the hopes of more subscribers... the list goes on. It's a trend, really.
Final Fantasy XIV still boasts a much more sandbox environment than pretty much any mainstream game this side of EverQuest II. And as Yoshida's team continues making steady improvements on the game's engine, I'm thinking that the game is going to pick up steam for precisely that reason. Not a huge burst of steam, mind you, but some. I think that 2.0 is going to be quite well-liked, albeit accompanied by the occasional baffling change and frustration from players not accustomed to Square-Enix's rather bizarre methodology for almost everything.
So those are my predictions for 2012. Will they hold true? No way of knowing until we're in this spot again next year. Next week, however, I'm going to opt to step off the year train and get back down to classes. Feel free to voice your opinion about my predictions or the next year in the comments, or you can mail them along to firstname.lastname@example.org.
From Eorzea to Vana'diel, there is a constant: the moogles. And for analysis and opinions about the online portions of the Final Fantasy series, there is also a constant: The Mog Log. Longtime series fan Eliot Lefebvre serves up a new installment of the log every Saturday, covering almost anything related to Square-Enix's vibrant online worlds.